Good education opens up individual opportunities and is precondition for participation. Thus, an education system must focus on people's entire education biographies. Almost one in five euros was invested in education in 2015.
Excellent qualifications are a precondition for excellent opportunities, participation and the innovative capacity of our country. They are the key to integration and advancement through education. This calls for an education system that is permeable and compatible, that encourages individuals to develop their talents, regardless of their background or level of resources. Educational equity must be further enhanced. This is the joint responsibility of the Federal Government, the Länder, local authorities and society.
Over the last few years, Germany has made good progress towards achieving its goal of becoming the Republic of Education:
Overall, the planned spending on education for 2015 by the Federal Government, Länder and local authorities comes to approximately 123.7 billion euros, an increase of around 37 billion euros compared to 2005. Accordingly, if public sector education expenditure is viewed in relation to the total government budget, almost one in five euros was invested in education. The Federal Government has steadily increased its commitment to education: in the period from 2014 to 2015 alone, investments in education rose by 11%, or almost 116% compared to 2005.
Good education opens up individual opportunities, ensures that people are fully integrated, participating members of society and is the best recipe for countering shortages of skilled manpower. Thus, a good education system must focus on people’s entire education biographies – from early childhood education to lifelong learning. Numerous Federal Government initiatives are helping to ensure that Germany meets this requirement:
Digital media have made enormous inroads into our everyday lives. It is now a question of developing their potential still further for teaching and learning processes. By virtue of their individualised solutions, digital media offer enormous opportunities for overcoming the major challenges facing the education system as they are able to accommodate the growing heterogeneity of students. Both higher and lower achievers can thus be supported in a more targeted way. Digital media make it possible to respond more promptly to complex and rapidly evolving qualification requirements. For both teaching staff and students, an adequate level of media literacy is a prerequisite for ensuring that this is put into practice and for preventing a digital divide in society. Therefore, promoting such skills will be a top priority over the next few years. The Federal Government launched the Growing up with Media initiative to boost media education in families and strengthen the conditions for developing media literacy from an early age. At the same time, particular emphasis must be placed on the quality assurance of digital education media and on data protection.
In recent years, the education system has become more efficient and more equitable. Nevertheless, social background continues to have an enormous impact on educational success. Therefore, further improvements in the area of equal opportunities in education continue to be a primary objective for the Federal Government. Germany’s dual system of apprenticeships plays an important role in this context. The Alliance for Initial and Further Training has undertaken to reinforce the dual system of apprenticeships and to motivate even more young people to enrol (see I 1 The High-Tech Strategy – a strong commitment to research and innovation). Its close orientation to real-world employment is one major advantage of the dual system of training. To ensure that as many young people as possible benefit from the system, the Federal Government has systematically expanded its promotion of individual counselling and orientation programmes and its support of lower achievers prior to and during training. It continues to enhance vocational and educational guidance programmes and counselling for pupils and trainees and to remove barriers between vocational and university-based education. The Educational Chains initiative helps young people cope with the transition from school to vocational training. The Federal Government’s careers-advice initiative Chance Beruf bundles the measures relating to qualifications, opportunities and advancement. The education and training structure programme JOBSTARTER introduces initiatives to reinforce apprenticeships and on-the-job training, thereby combating the shortage of qualified personnel. The Coordinating Office for Vocational Training and Migration promotes training in companies owned by migrants and encourages young people with migrant backgrounds to participate in apprenticeships. The joint Federal Government/Länder competition, Advancement through Education: Open Universities aims to offer attractive education prospects to those with vocational qualifications.
The Upgrading Training Assistance Act (AFBG, also known in Germany as the Meister-BAföG or Aufstiegs-BAföG) provides financial support to participants who have enrolled in professional development training courses. They receive a non-means tested contribution towards the cost of the training; in addition, those attending full-time courses are eligible for a means-tested grant to help cover their living expenses. As of 1 August 2016, the third amendment to the Upgrading Training Assistance Act will increase numerous AFBG benefits, make funding available for new target groups, optimise structures, simplify the process and react to trends in regulating professional vocational training. Under the AFBG, the maximum living allowance for single persons is to be raised from 697 euros to 768 euros, while the maximum contribution towards course and examination fees will increase from 10,226 euros to 15,000 euros.
With the 25th BAföG amending law, the Federal Government has assumed the full cost of financing benefits granted as of 2015 under BAföG (the German Federal Training Assistance Act); it is thereby relieving the Länder of the burden of approximately 1.17 billion euros per year in the long term and to grant them additional scope for education financing, for universities in particular. Furthermore, the benefits are being substantially improved, with both the entitlements and income deductions being increased by 7% with effect from the beginning of the 2016/2017 school year and the 2016/2017 winter semester. Therefore, the annual average number of BAföG recipients is set to rise by approximately 110,000 during 2017, the first full year that the changes take effect.
Reducing the red tape and streamlining the process, as well as introducing the option of online applications nationwide, will make the BAföG even more user-friendly. Thus, pupils and students who are dependent on BAföG allowances will be able to rely on solid education funding. The BAföG amendments are a decisive step towards greater training participation and more equal opportunities.
Germany has 16.4 million inhabitants with a migrant background. This figure represents approximately one fifth of the population. To a large extent, socio-economic status is still the main reason why children, adolescents and young adults with a migrant background perform below their peers on average, in terms of participating in education, or achieve lower levels of academic success. Nevertheless, increasing investments and the further development of the education system are helping young people with a migrant background to catch up. Supporting measures that specifically target the potential of migrants also play a part in increasing access to education and apprenticeships. One example is the Coordinating Office for Vocational Training and Migration (KAUSA), which was set up to promote dual training in companies owned by migrants.
Education will continue to play a vital role in integrating people with migrant backgrounds. It is imperative to pursue these successful approaches and use them to integrate the refugees. With the support of the European Social Fund (ESF), the Federal Government has introduced extensive measures to facilitate the integration of those who are newly arrived in Germany, for example, German language courses, processes to recognise skills and potential, and integration in apprenticeships and employment (cf. also the info box Integrating refugees through education).
Having accepted a large number of refugees in 2015 alone, Germany is now facing a challenge of historic proportions. The long-term goal will be to integrate a vast number of mainly young people, provided they have reasonable prospects of remaining in Germany for a significant period. The ability to speak German is key to achieving this goal: whether in day care centres, at school and in further training, integration into the labour market or social inclusion, all promotional programmes call for adequate language skills. The Alliance for Initial and Further Training agreed on specific measures to facilitate the integration of displaced persons in education and work (e.g. developing German language courses, coaching refugees to cope with the daily routine of training and work, and ensuring long-term residency for apprenticeships and initial employment).
Supporting language development
The Federal Government has extended its integration courses and made them available to refugees and asylum seekers with good prospects of permanent residence. The courses do not merely teach German, but also pass on the fundamental values of our democratic society. Various other programmes are also being further developed that cater specifically for career-related language skills, for example. The Federal Government supports refugees who are willing to take up or return to a course of studies, in particular with language preparation courses and helps in documenting that they meet the linguistic and academic requirements.
Integration in education and work
School-age children and adolescents from refugee families must be integrated in day-care centres and schools as smoothly and quickly as possible. This is the enormous task facing the Länder. Depending on their individual capacities, older teenagers and young adults should be encouraged to undertake apprenticeships, a degree course or further training. It is imperative that existing skills and potential be recognised, along with any professional qualifications that refugees have already obtained. The Recognition Act has proven to be an effective instrument in assuring the availability of skilled personnel by easing the integration of people with foreign qualifications in the labour market.
Instruments that facilitate training preparation or provide support during training are open to recognised refugees and those entitled to asylum. The Federal Government advises companies on all issues pertaining to refugee integration, for example, with the Centre of Excellence on securing skilled labour. Furthermore, companies receive support in integrating suitable refugees for internships, apprenticeships and employment in the form of welcoming guides at the chambers of commerce.
In addition, the Federal Government has facilitated access to educational funding for tolerated persons, for example by offering assistance during training and reducing required waiting periods from four years to 15 months for vocational training grants and the assisted training scheme. Access to introductory qualifications has also been made easier for asylum seekers and tolerated persons by exempting internships that are excluded from minimum wage requirements from approval by the Federal Employment Agency.
The different training routes will prove particularly successful if the individual integration instruments, for example, general and work-based language tuition, the funding measures of the Federal Employment Agency and in-depth, practical careers guidance, build on each other in a meaningful manner, thereby systematically paving the way for dual training.
The integration course is the key component of all inclusion endeavours into economic, cultural and social life in Germany. The course is augmented with support measures that are specifically aimed at refugees, which provide access to existing programmes or develop and underpin initiatives organised by employees and volunteers in order to facilitate social inclusion and integration. However, these support measures and projects are not just aimed at refugees and asylum applicants: they are also directed at the host society in Germany itself. For example, without the tens of thousands of dedicated German volunteers, it would not be possible to cope with the increasing influx of refugees.
Only by offering measures in all three areas – language development, integration in education and at work, and social inclusion – will it be possible to achieve the ultimate goal of rapid, successful integration. The Federal Government is coordinating the three pillars of language development, integration in education and work, and social inclusion in a targeted manner: emulating the interaction of these aspects in real life, for which these measures are designed as preparation.
With regard to vocational training, the Federal Government cooperates with many partner countries in the European Union and the OECD, together with a number of other industrialised, emerging and developing countries. In recent years, numerous countries have shown an even keener interest in Germany’s dual system of vocational training because it has proven to be highly effective in the needs-based qualification of skilled personnel and a key factor in assuring employability and social participation. In addition, by ensuring that German companies abroad have an adequate supply of suitably trained, skilled workers, the dual system of vocational training is of vital importance. Therefore, the Federal Government has significantly increased the international exchange of information and stepped up the corresponding advisory services at the Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training.
Thanks to its excellent transition into apprenticeships and employment – combined with the pledge made by the social partners in the Alliance for Initial and Further Training to improve the situation – the dual system of vocational training serves as a role model for countries in Europe with high levels of youth unemployment. In 2013, the European Commission initiated the European Alliance for Apprenticeships (EAfA) with the goal of ensuring a greater degree of employability in young adults in the Member States by means of company-based training and work-based learning. The EAfA promotes youth employment and supports the aims of the Youth Guarantee, while reducing the disparity between skills supply and demand on the labour market. Managed by the Commission, the success of EAfA lies with the joint commitment of politics, industry and partners to modernise the training systems. The self-imposed obligation of companies to provide apprenticeships plays a vital role in this respect.
The Federal Government plays an active part in shaping the OECD‘s education programme to aid the evaluation and development of the vocational training systems, even at international level.